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Russia and Estonia. The Border Along the Front Line, - Dmytro Levus

The Russian Federation has significantly weakened its legal position and created a precedent aimed primarily against it by declaring the accession of the occupied Ukrainian regions and Crimea, and by openly defaming the existing ratified border agreement with Ukraine. Dmytro Levus, an expert at the United Ukraine Think Tank, writes about this in his article for The Gaze. The text of the article can be found below.

On April 21, 2023, Viktor Liina became the commander of the Russian Pacific Fleet. Prior to that, he commanded the Baltic Fleet for two years. Liina's surname is Estonian. According to the biography of the 55-year-old admiral, he was born in Pechory, Pskov region, on the border with Estonia. Viktor Liina is a representative of the Seto, an ethnographic group of Estonians who profess Orthodoxy. Liina could be an Estonian citizen if he wanted to be. But he is pursuing a military career in an aggressor country. Liina and other indigenous residents of the town of Pechory have the right to Estonian citizenship because until the end of 1944 Pechory was part of Estonia and was called Petseri.

After the end of the First World War and the collapse of the Russian Empire, Estonia was able to gain independence. The main opponent of the young country was the Russian Bolsheviks. In the battles, Estonia became a donor of military power to Latvia, which was also fighting for independence. The Estonians helped the Latvians win the battles against the German Landeswehr.

Thanks to Estonia, the Russian White Guard movement was able to create the Northwestern Army in the Baltic, aimed at capturing Bolshevik Petrograd. The White Guards were defeated, but the Estonians survived. The Russian Bolsheviks were forced to negotiate borders with the states that became independent.

They also had to reach an agreement with Estonia and recognize its independence. The agreement between Soviet Russia and Estonia was signed in the Estonian city of Tartu on February 2, 1920. The Bolsheviks were under a diplomatic blockade by the leading countries of the world, so they desperately needed peace. In the spirit of the period, the actual front line became the border.

Acquisitions After the First World War

Estonia also included territories that were not administratively part of the former Estonian province. The St. Petersburg province included a strip between the Narva and Luga rivers with the city of Ivangorod (Jaanilinn). Today, Ivangorod is a Russian border town, albeit with a "bridge to Europe." They are separated from the city of Narva by the Narva River. You can feel the history there.

A European castle stands in Narva, and a Muscovite fortress in Ivangorod. The villages near Ivangorod on the right bank of the Narva River at that time had a Finnish population of Orthodox Izhors and Lutheran Ingermanlanders. This land was called Estonian Ingermanland, where the Finnish language dominated and was used in education and religion. Ethnically related Estonia was quite comfortable for the Ingermanlanders.

Estonia also received a part of the Pskov province with the aforementioned city of Pechory (Petseri) and a county, a part of the southwestern coast of Lake Pskov, and the city of Izborsk (Irboska). At the time, this territory did not have a completely Russian population. Many Seto autochthons lived there. Currently, the Seto are divided between Russia and Estonia. In the Russian Federation, the process of their assimilation is almost over, they are becoming Russians.

Losses After World War II

After the occupation of Estonia by the USSR in 1940, the border became the administrative boundary between the "union republics". In fact, Soviet border guards guarded it until the Soviet-German war, as well as the border with other territories conquered by the USSR in 1939-1940. The Baltic was quickly captured by Nazi Germany in the summer of 1941.

In 1944, the Germans were forced to leave Estonia. The USSR returned and quickly resumed its terrorist practices. Moscow organized an imitation of Estonia's voluntary desire to give up the territory it had received under the Treaty of Tartu. In its appeal, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR requested that a number of territories be withdrawn from Estonia. The decision was codified in the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on the creation of the Pskov Oblast on August 23, 1944. Since a similar situation occurred with the RSFSR's border with Latvia, it becomes obvious that the "internationalism" of the Russian Bolshevik Communists is a fiction.

Even under the red flag, Russia sought revenge and took advantage of the situation to terminate the Tartu Treaty, which defined the border. Moscow considered the treaty "unfair" because it burned the conscience of the Russian imperialist, regardless of political color. The territory that was "returned to Russia" was brought to a common denominator with a shocking pace with other areas of the Pskov region that had been "prosperous" under the Bolsheviks since 1920.

Private business was banned, and in 1949 all peasants were forcibly enrolled in collective farms. And in 1950, the Soviet authorities deported families to the Krasnoyarsk Territory of Siberia, which they considered a "counterrevolutionary element." Estonia's current border with Russia was established in 1944 with minor changes in 1957. At that time, the ESSR and the RSFSR exchanged pieces of territory "for convenience." Since then, on the Estonian shore of Lake Pskov, there has been a Russian semi-exclave, the village of Setu Dubki, with no population, and communication with it is possible only by water.

Border and independence

During the period of the Soviet Union's collapse and Estonia's struggle for independence, the issue of restoring the border became a topical one for Estonians. Compared to Latvia, where there is a similar story with Abrene, which was incorporated into Russia, in Estonia the topic is more acute and leads to real conflicts with Russia.

In the last year of the Soviet Union's existence, Estonian national revivalists tried to hold elections to the alternative parliament (the Congress of Estonia) in Pechory and Izborsk, and campaigned for the return of the territories. Russian press publications during this period contained articles stating that "Estonians are deliberately buying up abandoned farms near Izborsk and creating a strip of Estonian land ownership in the border area for the purpose of crossing over to Estonia by turnout."

The appearance of the image of Ivangorod together with Narva on the Estonian 5 kroon banknote in 1992 was regarded by Russia as a territorial claim. The Estonians responded to Russia's unilateral demarcation of the border in 1994 with a campaign of posting signs on pillars stating that these signs were illegally placed deep into the territory of independent Estonia. Estonia has recognized all descendants of citizens of the Republic of Estonia before the Soviet occupation in 1940 as eligible for citizenship.

Residents of these territories have no problems obtaining a full-fledged Estonian passport. Since the early 1990s, this process has been going on quite vigorously. Moscow sees this as a problem for its security and actively fights against officials and security forces who, despite their duties and belief in the greatness of Russia, are happy to receive passports of an enemy country. But the Russian official does not pay attention to the bans. He stubbornly considers the possibility of obtaining an EU passport not as a betrayal of the homeland, but as a pleasant bonus to his life in a gray province.

An Unratified Border

Since 1994, Moscow and Tallinn have been engaged in difficult border negotiations. An agreement was eventually reached to recognize the border between the "union" republics as the basis. The agreement was signed in 2005. Then there was the story of the re-signing of the Agreement in 2014 (a couple of days before the Russian occupation of Crimea). Because the Russians did not like the fact that the Estonians mentioned the 1920 Treaty of Tartu in the preamble, and Tallinn removed it.

Formally, the Russians say that this mention means the possibility of territorial claims by Estonia. In reality, Russia is demonstrating that it does not recognize Estonia's historical tradition, that relations between the countries began after the collapse of the USSR, and that Russia should not bear any responsibility for the 1940 occupation.

In September 2014, Russian special forces abducted Estonian Security Police officer Eston Kohver on the Russian-Estonian border. The border was not demarcated and the Russians claimed that they had allegedly detained Kohver on their territory. Then Estonia decided to build barriers. Kohver was exchanged for an exposed and convicted traitor who had been spying for Russia.

Despite this, in 2015 the Estonian Parliament passed the law on the ratification of the border agreement in the first reading. Russia did not rush to ratify the agreement at all. It all ended with a statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in 2017 that Russia would return to the issue when there was "constructive" bilateral relations. At that time, bills to refuse ratification appeared in Estonia. In 2019, the then Speaker of the Estonian Parliament, Henn Polluaas, said that ratification of the border treaties was only possible with the recognition of Estonia's 1920 borders.

What justice can look like

The situation with the Russian-Estonian border clearly demonstrates that the Kremlin is doing everything possible in legal terms to protect itself from possible territorial claims or historical scores. Moscow is acting from the position of its perceived superior status, allegedly due to Russia's historical and greatness, which implies hegemony in the negotiations.

Such tactics have been fruitful for Moscow only in conditions of stable peace, a certain carte blanche from the world for Russians to lead in Eastern Europe, and the unquestioned authority of the Russian Federation as a military power. The seizure of Crimea, the invasion of eastern Ukraine by Russian troops in 2014, and even more so the full-scale aggression against Ukraine, which did not bring it the expected victory, have reduced Russia's authority to nothing.

By declaring that the occupied Ukrainian regions and Crimea had been annexed, and by blatantly defaming the existing ratified border treaty with Ukraine, Russia has significantly weakened its legal position and set a precedent that is primarily directed against it.

On the contrary, the conditional "hook" for Estonia in the form of an unratified border becomes a problem for the Russians in the event of disintegration processes and in the event that the Russian Federation lacks a legitimate central government. Against this background, from a legal point of view, the return of Petseri-Irboska-Jaanilinn to Estonia may look to the world both as restoration of justice and as an element of ensuring stability at least in part of the territory of the former Russian Federation.

And the residents of Setumaa from Petseri and Ingermanland from Jaanilinn will have a chance to become Europeans, instead of giving their talents, energy and lives in the service of a bloody imperial monster, becoming a criminal, serving those who repressed their ancestors, deprived them of their property and took away their native language and worldview. This is what happened to an admiral named Victor Liina.

Source: "The Gaze"

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